Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, April 28, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, corpses pop up in Baghdad, Anbar refugees in and around Baghdad suffer death threats, Haider al-Abadi attacks the press twice today, the US State Dept continues the pretense of caring about the press and press freedom but still won't note the execution of Iraqi journalist Thaer Ali by the Islamic State, cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr issues a statement, and much more.

At today's US State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Jeff Rathke continued the pretense that the department wants a free press:

First, I mentioned yesterday our Free the Press campaign for this week. We have two cases today. Our first comes from Ethiopia. The freelance journalist and former high school English teacher Reeyot Alemu remains in prison after being convicted under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation on January 19th, 2012. Reeyot is among 18 other journalists detained in Ethiopia on charges related to their work, making Ethiopia the largest detainer of journalists on the continent.
Reeyot was arrested in June 2011 after writing articles that criticized government policies. She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 14 years on terrorism-related charges. Her sentence was reduced to five years by the supreme court in August 2012, and she lost a subsequent appeal to dismiss the case altogether. We call on the government to release Reeyot, who is in prison simply for exercising her right of freedom of expression. We urge the government to refrain from using its anti-terrorism proclamation as a mechanism to curb the free exchange of ideas.

Our second case comes from Vietnam, where a blogger, Ta Phong Tan, winner of the 2013 International Women of Courage Awards, currently is imprisoned amid a 10-year sentence for writing posts critical of the government and the Communist Party. She was among the first bloggers to write and comment on political news events long considered off limits by authorities. And we call on the Government of Vietnam to release her immediately and to allow all Vietnamese to express their political views freely both online and offline.

As we noted in yesterday's snapshot, Iraqi journalist Thaer Ali was killed in Mosul, executed by the Islamic State.  Agenzia Nova notes IS grabbed him three weeks ago and charged him with the 'crime' of having a cellphone and using it to communicate with person or persons outside of Mosul.   Shafaq adds that Thaer "was the editor of al-Rae local newspaper, which had been issued in Mosul before the events of last June."

"The events of last June" refer to when the Islamic State took control of Mosul.  NRT points out, "IS militants regularly kill Mosul residents who oppose the group's rule, including political candidates, lawyers, professors and even members of its own leadership."

The State Dept can't say a word about the murder of Thaer Ali.

This while pretending they're defending freedom of the press worldwide with their silly little campaign.

When Reuters' journalist Ned Parker had to leave Iraq this month for the 'crime' of reporting, Reporters Without Borders observed:

According to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a Reporters Without Borders partner organization, the authorities in the southern province of Basra are prosecuting freelance journalist Nasser Al-Hajjaj for criticizing the governor on social networks. The head of the Supreme Islamic Council has asked the governor to withdraw his complaint. Al-Hajjaj is currently in Lebanon.
Reporters Without Borders and JFO wrote a joint letter to the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, the Baghdad Court of Appeal and the Court for Press and Publication Cases in February 2014 drawing attention to the way many government officials and politicians abuse the possibility of bringing legal proceedings in order to sabotage the work of journalists.

Iraq is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

And Iraq's prime minister continues to do his part to keep the attacks on the press alive. Alsumaria notes that today the Council of Ministers condemned the press and did so with (yet another) statement from Haider al-Abadi attacking the press.

He carried his attack to the Parliament today.  All Iraq News notes that he decried the 'defaming' of the Iraqi military.

See, if the Iraqi military attacks civilians and steals and burns down civilian homes after 'liberation,' Haider's okay with that.  He'll give them a day or two to break the law and commit crimes and then declare publicly 48 or hours later that starting now -- right now -- these crimes need to stop.

Now if the press dare report on these crimes -- as Ned Parker did -- that's bad.

April 3rd, Ned Parker and Reuters reported:

Since its recapture two days ago, the Sunni city of Tikrit has been the scene of violence and looting. In addition to the killing of the extremist combatant, Reuters correspondents also saw a convoy of Shi'ite paramilitary fighters – the government's partners in liberating the city – drag a corpse through the streets behind their car.
Local officials said the mayhem continues. Two security officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Friday that dozens of homes had been torched in the city. They added that they had witnessed the looting of stores by Shi'ite militiamen.

Later Friday, Ahmed al-Kraim, head of the Salahuddin Provincial Council, told Reuters that mobs had burned down "hundreds of houses" and looted shops over the past two days. Government security forces, he said, were afraid to confront the mobs. Kraim said he left the city late Friday afternoon because the situation was spinning out of control.

Reporting those realities is a 'crime' in Haider's eyes and he not only issued a statement attacking reporters today, he also attacked them before the Parliament.

While reporting is a crime to Haider, the military's action isn't -- not in Haider's eyes, never in Haider's eyes -- but reporters who do their jobs?  That's a crime in Haider's eyes.

Appearing this month on NPR's Morning Edition (link is audio and transcript), Ned discussed the report with Steve Inskeep:

Steve Inskeep: What happened that instead began to make this a story about you?

Ned Parker: Well our team, on the day that Tikrit was liberated, they called me during the day and said, "We've witnessed an execution by federal police of a detainee in the street."  And it was a mob mentality.  And they could only stay a few moments because it was such a crazed scene I think our people feared for their own safety.  So when they came home that evening, we had a huge debate about do we report this, is this too sensationalist?  It's one incident.  But when we looked at the whole picture, we also saw a body being dragged by a group of Shi'ite paramilitaries.  We had   photos of this which we published  And there had been looting and arson of areas that surround Tikrit.  So we felt that we had to report what happened there, that if we didn't, we wouldn't be meeting our obligation to report fairly and impartially about the critical issue right now: What happens when security forces enter an area that has been under Islamic State control, that is Sunni and then has predominately Shia security paramilitary forces enter.

Steve Inskeep: This is the most basic job of a war correspondent: Go look at a war and report exactly what you see.

Ned Parker: Mm-hmm.  Right.  And this was a test case for the government.  The Iraqi government and the US government have spoken about the importance of post-conflict stabilization operations in Iraq.

Steve Inskeep: What happened after you published the story?

Ned Parker: It was picked up everywhere.  I think it was seen because of what our correspondents witnessed -- this execution which was horrific -- where they watched two federal policemen basically trying to saw off the head of a suspected Islamic State fighter to cheers from federal police, our story became really the example of what went wrong in Tikrit.  And it was published on April 3rd.  The night of April 5th on Facebook, on a site associated with Shi'ite paramilitary groups and political forces, a picture of myself went up calling for Iraqis to expell me. It quickly received over 100 shares and comments including, "Better to kill him than to expel him."

Steve Inskeep:  Did it blow over?

Ned Parker: No.  It only got worse.  I-I did go out and try to have meetings with some people, different prominent Iraqis, about it.  And then on Wednesday night [April 8th]  the channel of Asaib al-Haq -- which is a prominent Shi'ite political party and paramilitary group, my face is the backdrop as the anchor talks and he actually waives also a print out of my face and talks about how I should be expelled from the country and then proceeds to read a letter from an Iraqi living in the United States who also again calls for me to be expelled and describes Reuters as trampling on the dignity of Iraq and Shi'ite paramilitary groups and after that there's no way I could have stayed in the country -- both for myself and for my staff.  My presence was polarizing the situation.  So I left the next day.

All Iraq News notes Parliament held a session today in which they hosted Hiader.  Alsumaria reports Haider al-Abadi declared that there was no marginalization of any groups of people in Iraq and that the Cabinet votes are determined by consensus.

Well then it's time for Shi'ite militias to start killing Shi'ites because they're being 'marginalized' what with all the time these thugs are devoting to killing Sunnis.

بغداد: ميليشيات الحشد تقتل "8" من نازحي الانبار في منطقة حي الجهاد غرب بغداد.
54 retweets21 favorites

That's Iraqi Spring MC noting 8 refugees from Anbar Province who were killed by Baghdad's Shi'ite militias.

Graffiti is going up around Baghdad, threatening the displaced from Anbar, telling them to leave or be killed.  And to the south of Baghdad, in Mahmudiya, the Shi'ite militias have declared all Anbar refugees must leave within 72 hours or they will be killed.

But remember, Haider said this morning that no group is targeted in Iraq.

Of course, Rudaw reports that he also told the Parliament that if the day came when he "couldn't protect the Iraqi people, I will leave my post."

Does he think he's protecting the Anbar refugees?

Does he think he's protecting the Sunni population?

If so, he has a very minimal notion of what "protection" actually means.

All Iraq News notes an argument erupted in Parliament over Haider's continued insistence that Anbar refugees (fleeing the assault on Ramadi by the Islamic State and the Iraqi military) could be housed in Iraq's notorious prison and torture chamber Abu Ghraib.

Alsumaria notes that Kazem Sayadi with the Shi'ite National Alliance was not impressed declaring Haider's performance "disappointing" and noting he was not the choice of State of Law, that State of Law supported Nouri al-Maliki.  Sayadi also attacked (Sunni) Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq insisting they were responsible for sectarian tensions.

Meanwhile Shi'ite cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement today.  Alsumaria reports he decired some elements in the militias who are operating from "greed" and not in the best interests of Iraq.  He called for these elements to be isolated.  Along with calling for some elements of the militia to be frozen out, he also called for Iraq not to take assistance from the United States in fighting the Islamic State and insisted the Parliament should fight against allowing US involvement in fighting the Islamic State.

From the Parliament to the US Congress, Julian Pecquet (Al Monitor) reports:

The House Armed Services Committee on April 27 released an annual Defense bill that authorizes $715 million in aid to Iraqi forces fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). The bill, which is scheduled to be debated and voted on in the committee on April 29, carves out at least 25% of that aid for the peshmerga, the Sunni tribal militias and a yet-to-be-established Iraqi Sunni National Guard.
The bill “would require that the Kurdish peshmerga, the Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard be deemed a country,” according to a bill summary. Doing so “would allow these security forces to directly receive assistance from the United States.” 
The Obama administration has expressed some degree of support for giving Iraqi minorities more autonomy, with Secretary of State John Kerry and the president himself applauding the idea of a National Guard. A senior administration official, however, told Al-Monitor that the Defense bill proposal goes too far.


Alsumaria reports MP Hanan al-Fatlawi has declared the bill (which see wrongly appears to believe is already a law) is a violation of Iraq's sovereignty and she demands the Parliament pass some action barring the bill.  al-Fatlawi is a member of Nouri al-Maliki's State Of Law political slate.

And if al-Fatlawi's angry about Baghdad being bypassed (aid and weapons currently go to Baghdad which then either distributes a tiny amount to the Kurds and the Sunnis or none at all), wait until she learns what else is in the bill.

NRT explains that the bill, if it became law, would demand that "before Baghdad receives the money, it has to ensure that it's meeting certain conditions, including giving minorities greater inclusion in the central government."

In yesterday's snapshot, I noted my take on Iraq's descent into chaos.  Dexter Filkins has a different take.  The Washington Free Beacon notes:

New Yorker staff writer Dexter Filkins, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and the Iraq War, told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday that it was “hard to conclude otherwise” that the Obama administration’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq was the “worst strategic decision.”

The link has an audio clip of Filkins explaining his opinion.

Turning to some of today's reported violence, Alsumaria notes 2 corpses were discovered in southwestern Baghdad, the corpses of 25 Iraqi soliders were discovered in Nazim (Anbar Province), a Baghdad roadside bombing killed 1 person and left five more injured, and a group of men wearing uniforms of the Iraqi military kidnapped an engineer to the north of Baghdad.  All Iraq News notes that 8 corpses were discovered in the al-Jihad area of Baghdad.   Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 48 violent deaths throughout the country today.

And he attacked the press.

And you have to attack the press if you want to strong-arm them into ignoring reality and only reporting the lies that make you look good.

As we've long noted here, I have no position on any White House treaty/agreement with the government of Iran.  I've made it clear that since there's no deal -- and there isn't one -- to review, it's pointless.  There's a 'framework' for a possible agreement.   Whatever.

I do have an opinion on how this move by Barack Obama, US President, to salvage his tattered reputation in the final days of his final term as president has put addressing the needs of Iraq and the Iraqi people on hold as he refuses to do anything that might harm his deal.

I think it's shameful and embarrassing.

I think it's destructive.

He missed the deadline and now we all wait longer for Barack to see if he can get a deal by June.

Iraq suffers.

Maybe people will start to care -- people on my side, the left -- because the continued time and energy wasted on this non-deal is now harming the Palestinians as well.

Colum Lynch (Foreign Policy) reports how real efforts at helping the Palestinians reach a two-state resolution are now being set aside to some 'later date' that might not ever come:

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration had hinted recently that it might be willing to drop its long-standing resistance to Security Council action after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch, raising questions about his commitment to a two-state solution.
“It seems pretty clear to me there is no interest in the United States in pushing this right now,” Ilan Goldenberg, a former member of the Obama administration’s Middle East team, told FP. He noted that the White House has to balance its interest in mounting a new Middle East peace push at the U.N. with locking down support for the Iran deal in Congress. “The administration is not going to do anything to jeopardize that,” he said.

The whole world has to wait to see if Barack can ever nail down a deal with Iran.  He's been trying for how many years now?  He was supposed to have wrapped it up already but missed that deadline a few weeks back.  Now he's hit the snooze button to buy more time.

And the Iraqi people suffer and the Palestinians suffer and who else as everything has to be put on hold?

Lastly, David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration.  We'll close with this from Bacon's "These Things Can Change" (Dollars and Sense):

In 2013, Rosario Ventura and her husband Isidro Silva were strikers at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, Wash. In the course of three months over 250 workers walked out of the fields several times, as their anger grew over the wages and the conditions in the labor camp where they lived.

Every year the company hires 7-800 people to pick strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.  During World War Two the Sakumas were interned because of their Japanese ancestry, and would have lost their land, as many Japanese farmers did, had it not been held in trust for them by another local rancher until the war ended.  Today the business has grown far beyond its immigrant roots, and is one of the largest berry growers in Washington, where berries are big business.  It has annual sales of $6.1 million, and big corporate customers like Haagen Dazs ice cream.  It owns a retail outlet, a freezer and processing plant, and a chain of nurseries in California that grow rootstock.

By contrast, Sakuma workers have very few resources. Some are local workers, but over half are migrants from California, like Ventura and her family.  Both the local workers and the California migrants are immigrants, coming from indigenous towns in Oaxaca and southern Mexico where people speak languages like Mixteco and Triqui.  While all farm workers in the U.S. are poorly paid, these new indigenous arrivals are at the bottom.  One recent study in California found that tens of thousands of indigenous farm workers received less than minimum wage.

In 2013 Ventura and other angry workers formed an independent union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia-Families United for Justice. In fitful negotiations with the company, they discovered that Sakuma Farms had been certified to bring in 160 H-2A guest workers.  The H2A program was established in 1986 to allow U.S. agricultural employers to hire workers in other countries, and bring them to the U.S.  In this program, the company first must certify that it has tried to hire workers locally.  If it can't find workers at the wage set by the state employment department, and the department agrees that the company has offered the jobs, the grower can then hire workers outside the country.